The local wildlife

This is either Buster or Bandy, the two caged bears who in the 1960s were the star attraction at the popular service station and restaurant on Highway 7 near Actinolite (which in turn is near Queensborough) called Price’s, or the Log Cabin. People loved to stop in and watch those bears. They were, as I recall, famous for being fond of Coca-Cola, and would drink it out of the bottle. Note the classic vintage “Supertest” sign in the background. (Photo almost certainly by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Bandy (or is it Buster?), safely at bay, 1960s.

Well, yes, the local wildlife – local being the Queensborough area. The first and perhaps main thing to be said about it is that it is abundant. And not as caged or as (ostensibly) cuddly as the vintage photo of Buster (or is it Bandy?) above would indicate. Buster and Bandy were then; now, the wildlife seem to be a little, well, wilder.

Raymond and I usually get our first taste of the wild when we drive to the Manse after work in Montreal on a Friday, which means we don’t arrive in Queensborough until 10 p.m. at the earliest. The last stretch of the trip is on narrow country roads. Now that the warm weather is here, the critters are out in full force at nighttime, and I don’t just mean the bugs that plaster the windshield. We have learned not to drive too quickly on those dark country roads, because you never know what might be around the next bend.

Last trip it was an extremely healthy-looking porcupine taking the evening air – and not seeming to be remotely fazed by approaching headlights – in the middle of the road between Marlbank and Tweed, followed by a family – mother and several babies – of raccoons just barely off the road that runs north from Highway 7 to Queensborough. (The previous time, on that same Queensborough Road, we came across a big black rodenty creature that we later decided, in consultation with our Queensborough friend and nature expert Ed Couperus, must have been a muskrat.)

Then there are the deer, which are quite plentiful. Early in the evening on the Sunday of our last visit, occasioned by the fact that the power had gone out and there was therefore not much else to do, we took a drive back to what’s called “the Rockies,” an area that some might call the back of beyond but where there once was quite a thriving settlement, with a school and everything, and where there are still a number of households. That said, by the time you get to the very end of Rockies Road you are way, way “in country.” At the very end we turned around and headed back (to find the power back on, happily) and on the way were not a bit surprised to have a deer run across the road in front of us. The previous evening, our neighbour and friend Chuck Steele had called us over to see another deer in the field right across the road from his house. And he told us about having very recently seen a bear cub there. “You didn’t see the mother?” I asked. He said he hadn’t been able to spot her, but since she must have been there he of course did the wise thing and kept a very safe distance.

Then there are the wolves, or coyotes – not sure which, and maybe both. The first night we were at the Manse on our last visit, we didn’t get in till after 11 p.m., dead beat and very hungry. We felt much better, though, after having some heated-up high-end frozen pizza and a glass or two of Italian red wine, and were both sitting back relaxing in the vintage rocking chairs, feeling delighted at the peace and quiet all around us – when we heard it: those faraway (but not very faraway) lonesome calls, somewhere between a bark and a yip and a howl. All of a sudden you feel like you’re out on the edge of the lone prairie, to swipe a phrase. It’s quite a beautiful sound, but in a chilling kind of way. One is glad to be indoors when one hears it. If you’re with the person you love, so much the better. He will protect you.

The final wildlife moment of our late-June visit, and it was quite an amazing one, was the turtle. On a sunny Saturday morning, en route to buying trees for the front yard of the Manse, we were bombing east along Highway 7 when an approaching car flashed its headlights. Assuming it was the old “speed trap ahead” signal, we slowed down. But it wasn’t the police; it was the most enormous turtle I have ever seen, slowly – very slowly; it was a turtle, after all – making its way across that particular stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. It had to have been at least two and a half feet long and a foot or more high. (There I go, betraying my age by using imperial measures.) It looked absolutely prehistoric. I kick myself now for not having stopped to take a photo, but we needed to get those trees bought.

Anyway, in one weekend we can enumerate: a couple of deer, a family of raccoons, a porcupine, a wolf or coyote pack, a reliable report of bears, and a monster turtle.

This is a long, long way from downtown Montreal.

5 thoughts on “The local wildlife

  1. The deer were not an especially surprising sight. We see plenty EVERY time we’re in the Townships. The porcupine was the most interesting. He was waddling down the centre of a narrow two-lane road. I had to brake hard not to run it over. He seemed not at all bothered and continued to romp casually down the road. I had to go around him to continue. As for the turtle, what an amazing sight, going on all cylinders (about a foot a minute), tail extended high, a real prehistoric appendage. He (or she) was already out of our lane and entering oncoming traffic. I rolled down the window and flagged oncoming traffic, which was traveling at 100km an hour. I was gratified to see no turtle remains the next day on that stretch of road. With a little help from his friends…

  2. I surprised a deer early one morning about two weeks ago on Rene Houle’s property right in Queensborough [right next to McMurray’s old store]…

  3. When we are in Maine, ask me about the turtle sighting on the boulevard in Lowell…it is quite a funny story…

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